Crystal Palace v Hull City
Sunday May 14, 12:00
Live on Sky Sports 1
We will never know how successful Sam Allardyce would have been at international level with England, but we do know that he is one of the most accomplished firefighters in European football. He has never been relegated from the Premier League, Bolton and Blackburn both went down without him, and now Sunderland have made it three clubs who have suffered the drop since he moved on.
Although his initial impact at Palace was limited, Allardyce has managed to drag the south London club to the brink of survival. A point is all the Eagles need to maintain their altitude, but a defeat might leave them needing a result at Manchester United on the final day of the season. They aren't exactly on great form - they have lost their last three matches without scoring, including a 2-0 home defeat to Burnley that was in many ways far worse than the 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City that followed it.
Allardyce insists that all of the pressure is on Hull City, as the Tigers need to win. He wants the Palace crowd to play their part, and handle the occasion as well as he hopes his players will. There is certainly cause for optimism if you consider the recent wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, and it's worth considering that before they lost their last two home games to Spurs and Burnley, Palace had taken ten points from the previous four games at Selhurst Park.
There are personnel issues in defence. The influential Mamadou Sakho is still injured, with Scott Dann and James Tomkins also out. That means Martin Kelly will be pressed into service, even though he has a broken nose. Yohan Cabaye is still sidelined, so Jason Puncheon will be asked to provide the thrust from midfield.
They say timing is everything, and Hull City picked a dreadful moment to end their manager's three-year sequence without a home defeat. The Tigers were beaten 2-0 by relegated Sunderland, and Marco Silva admitted his players has lost focus, allowing the pressure of the occasion to get to them.
That doesn't bode well for this weekend, because depending on what Swansea do at Sunderland, Hull may have to win this game to avoid immediate relegation with a game to spare. Given that their final match is at home to Spurs, Hull have to approach this as if they need the three points come what may.
The problem is that their away form is atrocious. Away from Humberside, Hull have picked up just two points all season. They haven't scored more than once in any of their road matches since a 2-0 win at Swansea in August, and Opta tell us they have conceded more goals away from home than any other side in the Premier League.
Lazar Markovic has impressed since joining on loan from Liverpool, but he's out, so there may have to be a reshuffle in midfield. Tom Huddlestone may get a start, to give the Tigers a bit more bite in midfield.
I know that Palace only need a draw, but I don't think they'll risk being too negative and trying to hold on for a point. The likelihood is that the hosts will play primarily on the counter, which will suit speedy players like Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend. Hull are awful on the road, and that lamentable defeat to Sunderland suggests they are not coping with the pressure of the relegation battle.
I think Palace have a better side, and coupled with home advantage that makes them an attractive proposition at 2.1411/10.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
This is a clash between a Palace team that has stopped scoring, and a Hull side that hasn't been finding the net on the road all season. Therefore that logical pick would seem to be unders at 1.9620/21. There are a couple of things holding me back though. Firstly, Hull have conceded so many goals on the road, that you never know when they'll spring a few leaks. Also, games like this can become quite chaotic, so I'll just stick to my conviction that Palace will win.
Half With Most Goals
My gut feeling is that while Palace won't shut up shop entirely, they will try to dare Hull to come out, to then strike on the counter. On that basis, it wouldn't surprise me to see a cagey opening, followed by a much more lively denouement. I'm going for the second half to contain the most goals at 2.0421/20.
Back Crystal Palace to win at 2.1411/10
Back the second half to be the half with most goals at 2.0421/20